Vaginal odor is any smell which arises from the vagina. A healthy vagina should not have any overly noticeable or unpleasant odor. If people around you are able to pick up the odor, it’s likely an indication of an underlying problem.


The vagina has a balance of normal bacterial or flora. The most common causes of abnormal vaginal odor are certain kinds of infections that upset this natural balance of the vaginal area.

There are also rarer and more serious causes of abnormal vaginal odor, so any form of vaginal odor should not be taken lightly. This is an issue that should be investigated properly and not dismissed.


How do I know if my vaginal odor is abnormal?

Any strong or bad-smelling vaginal odor is not normal. You may even sometimes notice a specific characteristic to the odor e.g. a fishy smell.

ALSO, READ A vagina is never odor-free but what is a 'normal' smell for a vagina? Find out!

The abnormal vaginal odor may also often be accompanied by changes in vaginal discharge, including abnormal colored or increased volumes of vaginal discharge. There may also be other signs of infection, such as itching, bleeding when you are not having your period (intermenstrual bleeding), or bleeding after sexual intercourse (post-coital bleeding).

What could be the cause of abnormal vaginal odor?

Abnormal vaginal odor is most frequently caused by an underlying vaginal infection. Specific infections such as bacterial vaginosis (which occurs due to an imbalance in the natural vaginal flora) and trichomoniasis (a sexually transmitted infection) may give rise to prominent abnormal odors.

Bacterial vaginosis, in particular, is classically associated with a fishy smell.

These infections may also co-exist with other more serious vaginal infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea which can give rise to deeper pelvic infections.

Other causes of vaginal odor include poor hygiene or a retained tampon.

Rarer but serious causes of abnormal vaginal odor include cervical cancer or structural abnormalities such as recto-vaginal fistulas where there is an abnormal connection between the rectum and the vagina.

What tests should I do if I am concerned about abnormal vaginal odor?

If your vaginal odor is associated with any of the abovementioned symptoms, tests to investigate an underlying infection may be warranted. A high vaginal or endocervical swab test performed in the clinic will be useful.

As part of routine cervical cancer screening, you should also undergo your regular PAP smear.

What can I do to get rid of vaginal odor?

Treatment of the underlying cause will in turn help get rid of the abnormal vaginal odor. This includes the appropriate treatment of any existing vaginal infections. Vaginal pessaries or oral antibiotic tablets may be prescribed.

Beyond this, other steps that can be taken to minimize vaginal odor include good personal hygiene with regular washing of the external genitalia, avoiding douche washes, and wearing light, breathable cotton underwear.

Will scented products (soaps, washes, menstrual products) be helpful for vaginal odor?

While it may be tempting to use scented products to mask a strong vaginal odor, scented soaps/washes or menstrual products contain chemicals that may irritate the skin and cause further problems.

How do I wash or keep clean to minimize vaginal odor?

Regular washing of the external genitalia with water and small amounts of a gentle, unscented soap will suffice.

One should specifically avoid scented soaps as they may contain chemical components that cause skin irritation.

Feminine douche washes should also specifically be avoided.

The vagina is a self-cleansing organ and douche washes may disrupt the natural pH and balance of the vaginal environment, placing you at increased risk of bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections.

Are there any dietary recommendations to improve my vaginal odor?

There is no hard research evidence to suggest that specific dietary modifications will help with vaginal odor.

However, the ingestion of probiotics may help in maintaining healthy vaginal flora, which in turn minimizes abnormal vaginal odor.

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